Amilia v. Moose
Notes to Self
That’s the bar. Amilia, Adam, and Madman work there. They’ve killed people. Most of the important people here have. You can sit at the bar. The black stone it’s made of is nice and smooth and you like to run your hands against it.
You are free to roam the strip club and the changing areas. Spice is your boss. She isn’t as friendly as she likes to pretend to be. She gets irritated easily and she has a bad temper. Those white lines going down her orange legs (yes, she’s orange. Don’t stare too hard.) are laser whips. She’s had them surgically embedded in her legs for convenience. She knows how to use them. Don’t make her angry.
The one who looks like she’s been rolled in flour is Selease. Selease is Spice’s wife who Spice doesn’t care about but Selease doesn’t know that or pretends not to know that. You haven’t decided which one just yet. Don’t say anything about it. Selease doesn’t help in the bar, or in the restaurant, or in the strip club. She doesn’t do anything helpful. Ever. She’s a princess (in the metaphorical and the non-metaphorical way). She gets angry when she doesn’t get her way. She’s also very strong. She’s a Moontian (that’s why she’s so pale), they tend to be very strong. You saw her break one of the metal chairs with her bare hands a couple days ago. Don’t give her a reason to lay those hands on you.
You will see Onoytin often. Mostly she will be in a corner, even on busy nights, doing homework or some personal project. She’s hard to spot since her dark purple, scaly skin blends in easily with the dim lighting. She doesn’t really speak to new people. You are new.
They won’t trust you for a while. Particularly Guilar, who speaks rarely, if at all. She’s small, like pre-teen small. She’s got big brown eyes, and an adorable smile. She looks cute and fluffy from a distance, but she does shapeshift into…something with claws and fangs. She doesn’t attack without reason, but she does attack with all her might. Customers don’t always know that she’s security. There have been quite a few guys and gals and everything else in between getting handsy with dancers and barely leaving with their lives let alone their hands thanks to her. Don’t give her a reason to use her claws, or fangs, on you.
If you see a red blur flying past you, it’s Chami. She’s fast. She’s the waitress, the only waitress, because she’s just that good, so she’s always in a rush. Her job requires a lot of concentration. Don’t get in her way. Her raging red hair is a sign of the fire she can produce and control. She likes to set things on fire, outside of the establishment if Amilia can help it, and, if you bump into her and mess up her flow, she will burn you. Maybe accidentally, but probably not.
Moose scares you. He’s so tall he towers above everyone. His red eyes are creepy. He seems like he’s always plotting a massacre and you’re pretty sure he keeps his antlers sharp intentionally. He likes to act like he’s the boss and that he’s nice, but you know better. He just funds the place. He likes to watch it work. You’re not sure that you want to know why. He talks like he can do everything, but he can’t do anything for you.
If you ever have a problem, go to Amilia. She can treat you if you’re sick. She will help you if it gets too overwhelming. She’ll make sure you are okay inside and outside of work. Amilia seems like she cares about everyone, since she manages everyone (Moose included), and for the most part she does, but there isn’t anyone that cares about everyone. She told you that. Remember it. She’s not the tallest, or the strongest, or the nicest, but she’s the smartest person. She also has sharp knives that she always keeps at her waist and great aim. You’ve seen her yell, you’ve seen her frustrated, but you’ve never seen her truly furious, and you don’t want to.
The pay is better than it should be. The work is better than it should be. The employees are…about as bad as they come but still good people. Some people are bad by choice, others were made that way by life. Amilia told you that too. You like it here. Don’t mess this up.
Chika didn’t hate his job.
Sure, it meant he worked long nights, was nearly unclothed or completely naked most of the time, danced even though he wasn’t too great at dancing, and was almost always bombarded with loud music, but his species was nocturnal, he’d never really enjoyed clothes, dancing was fun even if he couldn’t do it with grace, and he was deaf…mostly. He could hear a little. “A little” meaning his heartbeat in his left ear occasionally. Why? No one really knew, and he’d turned down Amilia when she’d offered to give him a check-up; so, he may never know.
Whatever the problem with his left ear, he didn’t hate his job. While being a stripper wasn’t as frowned upon as it had been in its early centuries, it wasn’t exactly the most sought-after job either. For Chika, being a stripper was the best job he’d come across, and he wasn’t planning on stopping any time soon. So, no, Chika didn’t hate his job, but Chika did hate the bruises.
Chika was exceptionally pale, just like every other of his kind. When it came to lack of color, the Moontians (who looked like they’d been heavily dusted with white powder) beat out his kind, but his people were rivaling for a close second. With so little pigment to his skin, he bruised easily.
He was lanky and awkward and clumsy, so bruises were something he discovered early on in life. This was something he remembered laughing about with Nidev on their first date. It was also something he remembered crying over the first time Nidev hit him and every time after that. No. Chika didn’t hate his job, but he did hate how jealous it made Nidev and how many bruises Nidev made on him night after night.
He didn’t hide his bruises either. They’d been visible since they started appearing, just under a year ago. He’d been questioned about them and he’d lied, as easily as he breathed, to everyone. Amilia hadn’t even asked. She’d only threatened Nidev the moment the boyfriend first stepped foot into Arrows&Lines. Shortly after, she offered to “handle the situation” and left it at that. Every now and then when Chika was more bruised than normal, she reminded him of the offer and he continually turned her down. Nidev hurt Chika, a lot, but Chika could never wish anything bad on his love.
Chika was as kind-hearted as they came, and he didn’t like violence. He was taller than Guilar, thinner than Spice, quieter than Onoytin, much saner than Thio, more mortal than Adam and MadMan, much less fiery than Chami, less intelligent than Amilia (but then again who wasn’t), all around better than Moose (but then again who wasn’t), and weaker than them all.
There was a slight vibration that let him know that someone had entered the large dressing room designated for the strippers to prepare for their shift. The glimpse of orange skin in his peripheral told him it was Spice entering. That also meant she was probably saying hello (Chika waived over his shoulder), and giving some speech about what she’d done in her free time even though Chika couldn’t hear her. It’d been a year and Chika still couldn’t tell if Spice was sincerely forgetful or extremely inconsiderate. In any case, he didn’t think too much of it. He couldn’t control others, only himself.
On normal days, since she was the manager of the strip club, Spice was meant to be here around 8. Considering the special occasion, Arrows&Lines’ fifth anniversary, there were special hours. The other girls were already lounging in the front, dressed and waiting. Spice hadn’t needed to be here until 9. It was 9:47, but that wasn’t surprising.
Chika turned to face Spice, who was blabbing away as he thought she would be. From the look on her face he could tell she was talking about tips. Chika could see the credits practically gleaming on her pupils. There was a little more small-talk (with only Spice talking) before Spice began her makeup and Chika moved to pick his outfit for the night.
The goal of every outfit was to look good on but also look good whilst coming off. With his paleness, light, pastel, glittery things looked best which explained why all his wardrobe was reflecting lights in weird pattern onto his skin. He looked at the outfits one by one before deciding on the silver glittery mess that would cover some of his ass and the vest to go with. He changed quickly, without any cover, because, really, it wasn’t anything Spice hadn’t seen before.
He waved to her once again on his way out. She winked with her one open eye that was fixed on Chika in her makeup mirror. Chika blew a kiss as a goodbye as he exited the dressing room.
The other dancers used their spare time to gossip. Chika used the spare time to be left alone or to chat with non-dancer employees. He was about to spend several hours being groped and grabbed. The last thing he had an appetite for was drama and that was all gossip caused in his experience. He was tired of getting caught up in drama he couldn’t even hear.
So, he purposefully steered away from the large group of girls and boys, all with a drink in one hand, for some of the multi-limbed dancers a drink in two or three, and a rumor in another, and sat at the bar in the company of MadMan, Adam, and Amelia. Maybe he visibly flinched when Amilia looked him over, clearly counting bruises, but no one mentioned it.
You sure you want to work tonight, Chika? Amilia signed before sliding a glass of water across the bar to him.
A joyous celebration like this, Chika took a sip of his warm water, wouldn’t miss it for the milky way.
“He’s allowed to decide his beatings, Amilia.” Adam, or MadMan (Chika could never really tell which one was speaking when since they shared a singular body), spoke as they pulled bottles of liquor from the counter and placed them on the back shelves. Chika rolled his eyes shortly after reading their lips.
When Chika first met Adam and MadMan, he’d been confused, to put it lightly. Something just hadn’t felt right. When Amilia explained that they were two gods sharing a body, the confusion only increased. Chika couldn’t say if he believed in gods but two people in one body he could believe. He’d seen weirder after all. He simply accepted the information. Mostly because, true or not, he would treat them with the same respect and kindness that he treated everyone with.
Adam and Madman either didn’t know (not that too many people did) or didn’t care to use sign language when it came to Chika. Sometimes they communicated with him telepathically (rare but not unheard of) which was odd but not unpleasant and, although they didn’t this time, Chika knew what they were saying without having to look up from his drink. Chika wasn’t a gambler, but he’d bet they were saying something along the lines of “Mortals have such short lives and you continue to spend yours being a punching bag.” Chika continued to drink his water. Adam and MadMan were “gods” after all. They’d never understand what it meant to feel as powerless as Chika did.
That’s enough. Amilia signed aggressively along with her speech. It’s his life. Gods or not, you don’t get to judge and berate. Unless you’re actually being helpful, keep it to yourself.
“I thought that’s exactly what we get to do-” Chika stopped reading the gods’ lips and instead followed the path of the knife Amilia flung at them. He watched their pained face as it cut the tip of their ear and planted itself in a wall on the opposite side of the establishment. They immediately started complaining. She hushed them with a glare. Chika nodded his thanks.
Chika danced with his eyes closed. The music was loud enough for him to feel the vibration and once his few clothing items had been removed, and the sensations could be felt all over, he didn’t really need to see. He knew Guilar was good at her job. She wouldn’t let any of the customers get out of hand. Tips were deposited rather or not he looked at them. Even though the room was already dark, excluding the dim lights on his catwalk, he knew his strip like the back of his hand; he wasn’t worried about falling. He felt perfectly safe. That’s why he was surprised when someone yanked him from the stage.
His eyes opened immediately. There was a pain traveling up his ankle from the rough landing and for a moment his eyes wouldn’t focus. Between the sudden change in lighting and the shock from his ankle twisting in a way it’d never attempted, Chika was downright disoriented. There was people and pushing and pulling until suddenly everything stopped, and Chika opened the eyes he hadn’t realized he closed. He was back in the dressing room, alone.
He scanned the area in front of him and saw no one. Even more confused, he turned to leave the dressing room and bumped directly into Amilia.
Her back was to him, but he could tell from the way she was tense that she was pissed. Though Amilia wasn’t much taller than him, she was tall enough for her red and purple braids swinging back and forth as she moved angrily to block his view of whatever was happening on the opposite side of her. Once he craned his neck to peak over her shoulder, he immediately hobbled in between her and her opponent. When had Nidev gotten here?
Chika had no idea what they were saying. There was too much fast talking, too much non-sign hand movement, and way too much yelling loud enough for Chika to feel. He was getting jostled around whilst trying to keep the bartender and the boyfriend arms’ length away from each other. It continued that way for four long minutes (Chika counted) until Nidev pushed a little too hard and Chika ended up on his ass, and Amilia ended up on Nidev. Chika was going to attempt to stop them, even knowing he would fail, but his ankle and Guilar halted his plan when she burst through the dressing room door, a little ball of black fur, hard enough to make the floor shake. The tiny Na’hual quickly pulled Amilia off Nidev.
Nidev, for once, was just as bruised and bloody as Chika after a fight. Of course, that didn’t stop him from running his mouth. Which was why Guilar didn’t stop Amilia from once again knocking some sense into Nidev, or, at least, trying to. Nidev got up once again and Chika simply watched from his position on the floor as his love spat some words in Amilia’s direction before moving towards Chika. Chika’s eyes moved to Nidev’s hands to see what he was saying when suddenly Guilar obstructed his view. He watched her creamy tan skin turn into black fur again and her claws extend. Chika didn’t need to see a translation for the threat Guilar probably wasn’t even saying to know that she meant it. Nidev didn’t move, didn’t say anything that Chika could see. Nidev just turned and headed for the door, his mouth forming a string of colorful curses on the way. It slammed behind him and Chika’s eyes turned to Amilia.
That’s it! It’s one thing that he has the audacity to put his hands on you but it’s another that he thinks he can walk in here and do it. He’s getting out of control!
Chika tried to talk Amilia down. His hands moving just as fast as hers to communicate that he was fine, that Nidev never really hurt him, that it wasn’t anything he couldn’t handle but Amilia wasn’t having any of it. She grabbed his hands, stopping his protests.
Lip reading wasn’t always reliable. There were species that didn’t even have lips and reading lips wasn’t easy, especially not with the tears clouding Chika’s eyes, but Amilia trusted Chika to follow along. This wasn’t an intervention, she didn’t do those. Chika was old enough to make his own decisions. He was smart enough to know what was best for his life. Amilia didn’t need to tell him any of that. This was an ultimatum. It was time for him to make the choice he’d been putting off.
Chika could feel himself get colder. He could feel the blood draining from his face. Amilia had offered to handle Nidev but she’d never told Chika he would have to leave, and he understood that this made sense to her, that this was the best way to solve the problem in the end, but he didn’t want to leave Nidev or Arrows&Lines.
–Clearly, he’s not gonna stop. He’s escalating. Something must give Chika. Either he’ll kill you one day, or I’ll kill him if he keeps hurting you. I can’t control what he does but I can control why he’s doing it. You can’t work here anymore.
Amilia, please- He began to sign but was stopped by Amilia’s closed eyelids. The decision had been made. Amilia gestured behind him without opening her eyes. Chika turned to see Guilar pulling his clothes from the rack, placing them into a container that he had no idea when or where she’d gotten it. This was the end. He’d found happiness and it was over.
He let Amilia guide him over to a chair. He didn’t say anything to her. He watched her bandage his ankle without so much as twitching a finger. He didn’t cry like he wanted. He didn’t scream like he didn’t know how. He just thought.
It was one thing for Nidev to hit him. It was one thing to leave bruises and sometimes scars, to hurt Chika’s pride or temporarily disrupt his happiness. It was another to take away the thing that provided him constant joy, to destroy a safe-haven that wasn’t threatened by the elimination of forests, the contamination of rivers, the general destruction of any natural ecosystem. He’d lost a home before to things he couldn’t control. But this…he could have stopped this.
Amilia clocked him out, cashed out his last pay and his tips for the night. Amilia told him to contact her if he ever needed anything. Anything, she repeated. She just didn’t want him to be hurt anymore, not when she could help it. She wouldn’t contribute to Nidev slowly tearing him apart. Amilia wasn’t like Chika. She didn’t let herself be helpless.
Chika stood outside of Arrows&Lines, the music vibrating at his back. Amilia stood behind him, patiently waiting. He could go left. He could begin the trip towards “home”, where Nidev would be waiting with an angry fist and a bruised ego. He could put himself back into the situation that only continued life’s trend of taking from him. He could go right, to the unknown. He could turn around and go back to Amilia’s arms.
Amilia waited: ten minutes, an hour, two. Chika lifted a foot. Amilia turned and went inside.
The mists encroached from all sides. Long tendrils seemed to grasp for the small rowboat, as if it wanted to suffocate its occupants. A small lantern shielded them from the malevolent haze and diffused the mist in its radius. The orb of light formed pale shadows across the faces of the three in the rowboat, which illuminated their pallid expressions in disjointed splotches of light and darkness, making their features look sunken and decayed. Renault wiped glistening beads of sweat from his forehead and heaved on the oars. His wary eyes scanned the mists. Another piece of debris clattered against the hull, causing a sharp intake of breath from Renault. He whipped his head towards the source of the noise. A wooden beam drifted by—a small streamer of tattered cloth stuck to it surface. Dozens more of the items could be made out, each shrouded by the thick mists. He shuddered to think about who, or what destroyed an entire navy fleet.
Renault tried not to focus on the wreckage. He just wanted this final task to be over. The Captain said it would be easy, and then he could go home. It had been a long time since he had been there, home. He could still feel the cool iron manacle locked around his ankle, but a glance would reveal nothing there. He was a freeman now, as soon as this task was done.
The first corpse drifted by, its skin was grey and bloated. The blue, high collared uniform it wore was tattered to rags. Renault’s companion shifted in the back of the rowboat, a long rifle cradled between his arms, hammer cocked. Bastien shot him an uneasy glance as the dead sailor bounced gently off the boat. They pulled their eyes away and looked nervously at the figure resting in the prow. She wore grey robes, trimmed in gold. A cowl was pulled low across the face and obscured any features.
“Renault!” Bast hissed. “I don’t like this, seems too good to be true.” His knuckles were white against the wood of the gun, and his was brow furrowed. It looked like a series of canyons had carved their way across his forehead. Bast rubbed his goatee with a gnarled hand. His eyes fixed on another corpse drifting by the boat. “Doesn’t feel right,” Bast said. “Not any of it.” The water broke with each heave on the oars and sent a cascade of droplets trailing into the water. The wind picked up, sending the fog racing around them. The stiff breeze emitted a low moan as it rushed past Renault’s ears, and drew goosebumps along the length of his arms. The mist was thick though, and no end to the accursed haze appeared.
“Steady,” Renault said. His baritone voice echoed off the fog around them. “Captain will do right by us, I know it.” His words settled some of his own fears, and he heaved harder on the oars. Bast was right though, there was something wrong with the fog. Renault ran a hand across his brow. It came back glistening with sweat. Bast looked at him, and leaned in close. His whispered words barely audible over the sound of the wind.
“Fuck the Captain,” Bast began. “If weren’t fer those chain’s he’d be gone long ago.” His finger tapped the wood of the rifle; a grin grew across his face. “I’d be free years ago.” Renault frowned.
“But we get to go home,” Renault began. “Said our debts would be paid if we went with—” he jerked his head to the figure behind him. Bast stared at him, and shook his head.
“Well I got a better deal, so the captain can sod off,” Bast said. He stroked the polished wood of the rifle, a murderous gleam to his eyes.
“Better deal? What bette—“The fog burst to light sending the pair jumping in their seats, rocking the rowboat. Bast muttered a stream of curses, and steadied himself with a hand on the gunwale. A heartbeat later an avalanche of thunder. Not sharp, like a snapping branch, but a low peel. As if a dozen men rushed down the gangplank of a galley.
Renault winced at the base rumble of the thunder, and hoped that it wouldn’t reach them soon. He adjusted the oars. The palms of his slab like hands were drenched and clammy, and each stroke shifted his grip on the wood. A glance revealed their passenger hadn’t moved. Her quiet unnerved him. Normal people don’t convince the captain to change destination at the last second, and why would she want to come here of all places?
Renault let a lungful of air free in a sharp hiss while heaving on the oars. From his seat in the rear, Bast fidgeted with his rifle checking that the powder was secure in the pan. After several strokes Renault let the oars drag in the water and checked the compass tied round his neck. Southwest, still on course. He paused a moment to run a thumb over the small gold ring strung next to the compass. It was too small to fit any of his fingers. Breathing deeply, he imagined the smell of wildflowers. Yes, he would be home soon. A feminine voice interrupted his revelry.
“Mr. Duvalle, this should suffice.” The woman said. There was a sharp authority to her voice; it reminded him of the Captain’s.
“Yes Ma’am,” he said stiffly, unsure how to address her.
The oars knocked lightly against the wood as Renault rested them on the gunnels. They drifted, and their momentum slowed. The hull clattered against the debris strewn through the water. The boat drifted a moment before coming to a halt. Renault dug his fingers into the side of his neck; attempting to work a knot of muscle free, he tried his best to ignore the broken wreck of a ship off the starboard side. It jutted from the water like a splintered ribcage clawing for the sky above.
“Gentlemen, as I expected, your Captain failed inform you about the reasons we’re out here.” Renault turned in his seat to look at the woman. “Time is of the essence, but know that I have arranged your freedom due to the traumatic nature of what is about to come. Thank you for your assistance to me in this matter.”
“As long as we get to go home,” Renault said, thinking of the name engraved upon the ring strung next to the compass. Bast was silent.
The woman lowered her cowl with gloved hands, revealing the angular, almost gaunt face beneath. Pulling her gloves free, she proffered them towards Renault. The skin of her hands were icy to the touch. Eyes closed, she ran her hands across a long braid of auburn hair, as if checking that everything was in place. The woman finally met Renault’s eyes; he was struck by the intensity of it. He was frozen in place by eyes of two separate colors, one pale blue, and the other a haunting grey. Unconsciously, his hands tightened on her gloves, and his breath caught in his throat. He couldn’t pull his eyes from that grey pupil. It was like the sea in storm. Wraitheye! His mind screamed. Panic blossomed into his muscles; unbidden Images of death forced themselves into his mind.
“Mister Duvalle, Mister Gauvreau,” she said to Renault and Bastien, “I encourage you to brace yourselves.” The pupil of her grey eye dilated—darkness overtaking it. A black ichor coursed from her pupil across the white of her eye in jagged streaks, like fractures in broken stone. Steadying herself with a hand on the gunwale, she let out a long slow breath, and winter fell. The beads of water dotting the craft froze over. Each exhale producing a cloud of steaming vapor in the chill air. Renault fell from his seat in shock and landed with a thud in between Bast’s feet. Her gloves fell to the bottom of the boat, forgotten. The fog flashed with light—another low roll of thunder sounded in the distance.
All around them the mist moved and swirled inwards on itself. Hundreds of cobalt blue lights winked into existence and spread outwards from the woman. Two of the lights hovered over the boat, coalescing into a pair of malevolent eyes. The mist wrapped itself into a body that was bloated and ragged. Hollow eyes leered at him from a deathly visage. Half of its jaw was gone, revealing shattered teeth and jutting splinters of bone. A stream of mist leaked from the gaping hole in its face. The high collared greatcoat adorning the apparition floated about it, as if submerged in the depths below. Hundreds of tortured figures walked the surface of the water. They moved aimlessly, and fog spilled from rents in their form. The dead sailor extended a skeletal talon longingly towards him, yet Renault found himself unable move. His muscles locked with fear.
“Show me,” the Wraitheye called out. Her voice was laden with command, and it drew the attention of the specters. They ceased their aimless wandering. A host of cobalt blue eyes turned to inspect the speaker. She closed her eyes and her grip tightened on the gunwale. A chill shot down Renault’s spine, it was like a presence behind him, a whisper to the ear, or a razor to the throat. The dead moved in unison, northwards, inexorably northwards. The Wraitheye mumbled, as if speaking to herself. All around the dead strode. Her eyes snapped open, locking with Renault’s. Perspiration dripped from her brow and flushed cheeks. “Follow them,” she said. Forcing the words in-between ragged heaves of breath.
It took the two men several heartbeats to unlock their muscles. Fear of that black, unwavering eye, prompted their movement. They followed the procession of the dead through the fog. The rifle in Bast’s hands forgotten as he stared, slack jawed, at the corpses around them. Renault’s hands felt heavy, and fear made his movements tense and uneven. A shape loomed from the water ahead of them. Its silhouette like some terror from the depths. Dread filled him as he aimed towards the silhouette. He ignited a mantra within his head in an attempt at sanity. Stroke. Breath. Reset. Stroke. Finish the job.
Bast’s face was ashen, and his eyes rabid. They flicked uncontrollably from figure to figure. A small sound came from his hands. Scritch, scritch, scritch, as he drove his fingernails into the wood of his rifle. Blood ran like little streams down the back of his hand. Through his mantra, Renault could distantly hear Bast’s discordant mumbles.
“…not enough money…shouldn’t have accepted…They never said anything bout a goddamn witch…” Stroke. Breath. Reset. Stroke. Money? Finish the job.
“There,” The Wraitheye said. Her voice drawing Renault’s attention, he looked over his shoulder. She pointed to the terror, which wasn’t a terror, but a ship. It was the largest he had ever seen. Laying on an angle, it looked as if it had run aground. Gaping holes pockmarked the breadth of the structure; its hull had been shot to splinters. Distantly, Renault could tell that the crew had run out the guns—cannons poked through the hull like porcupine quills. The faded gold lettering across the ship’s stern read, Crucible.
“Mister Duvalle, we’re going aboard,” the woman said. Her voice was strained, but calm. Renault’s eyes slipped to the dead men. They converged on the Crucible, striding through its hull with ease. Their cobalt eyes dotted the ship, unmoving. Bile filled Renault’s throat at the thought of stepping aboard, but he aimed the rowboat towards a hole in the ship that lay at water level. Stroke. Breath. Reset. Stroke. Finish the job.
The rowboat ground against the interior decking of the Crucible. The lower deck was littered with corpses. A resolute phantom standing immobile over each one. The Wraitheye clambered out of the rowboat and into the ankle deep water of the interior. Renault rushed to follow, not wanting to see what would happen if he got too far from her. She controlled the dead—that’s what the stories said at least. The water was freezing, numbing his ankles. He wrapped a fist around the compass and the ring and tried to think of better times.
A splash signaled Bastien had joined them. He swore up a storm about the cold, the specters, and the woman. The Wraitheye walked up the incline of the ship towards the stairs leading to the main deck. He moved to follow but was stopped by Bast, a hand gripping the fabric of his shirt. “Renault! She’s gonna kill us!” his voice a whisper hissed through clenched teeth. “You’ve heard the stories, damn witch will kill us, use our corpses!” His bloodshot eyes frantically looked between him and the dead. The apparitions watched, unmoving. He thrust a hand towards the rowboat, “let’s go! No amount of money is worth this!”
The voice of the Captain echoed in Renault’s head, “Do what she says, get her back, and you get to go home.” He felt the gold band next to the compass and imagined the smell of wildflowers. She always smelled of flowers.
Renault shook his head. “Captain said we go with her, that’s what we do.” He strode after the woman, giving the corpses a wide birth. The deck was littered with them, and it looked as if there had been a fight. Weapons were scattered everywhere: swords, pistols, rifles.
Bast splashed after him, muttering under his breath, “…better be fuckin rich for this.”
“What was that?”
They caught up with the woman on the main deck. The dead were numerous and the deck boards were stained a dark crimson. The Wraitheye studied each specter, humming a piece of music under her breath. It was slow and somber, almost reverent. They followed her up the stern, towards the helm of the ship. The woman stopped beside a corpse, an elegant cape shrouded most of the body, but the specter couldn’t be missed. It was a woman, standing regal even in death. Her long greatcoat was adorned with a sash that fluttered in an unseen wind. Metals lined the breast of the coat, and ornate epaulettes poked from beneath the fur mantel of her cloak. It was the Admiral of the fleet. Mist poured from her eye’s socket and numerous holes in her back.
The Wraitheye laid a hand onto the corpse and whispered several words under her breath before raising her voice into a command. “Show me how you died,” she called out. Another chill swept through Renault, as if he had been punched in the gut.
The specters around them shifted, taking up new positions, or materializing from the air. The Admiral took the helm. Officers coalesced into existence around her. Across the whole ship specters assembled into new positions.
It played out like a scene, the Admiral at the helm steering the ship. Their ghostly forms lurched forwards, stumbling and losing their balance. They ran aground, Renault thought and watched in horror as the specter beside the admiral, an officer, drew a short dagger from his belt. The officer raised a fist into the air, shouting. Half the spectral crew of the Crucible drew weapons and murdered those who hadn’t armed themselves
The officer next to the admiral leapt at her, repeatedly plunging his dagger into the small of her back. She slumped forwards across the helm, her hands fumbling for something under her greatcoat. The ship erupted into a frenzy as skeletal specters murdered each other with mad abandon. The mist formed into incorporeal weapons and objects, looping scenes of betrayal over and over again. The Admiral fell to the ground with her back to the helm. She clutched at something hung round her neck and pulled a pistol from her belt with her other hand. Raising the pistol with difficulty, the Admiral sent a shot into the stomach of the officer that killed her. He slumped but remained standing, and plunged his dagger into her eye. The officer stooped, grabbing whatever was around her neck and limped off down the stairs, disappearing. The scene of her death repeated itself. The storm from earlier closed in, letting loose thunder in deafening blasts, punctuating the melee. Looking into the mists he could almost imagine other ships, similar scenes playing out, the lighting of the storm flashing like cannon fire. The wind rose into a howl and the ocean stirred into a turbulent rage.
Bast swore and clutched the rifle tighter to his chest. “The witch controls them, uses them, gods above, it’s not right, it’s not holy.” He shook visibly, hands trembling. All the color had drained from his face and a small puff of foam leaked from the corner of his mouth.
Renault tightened his grip on the ring and compass. This wasn’t natural but he needed to finish the job. Bast’s voice grew distant, his mantra overshadowing him. In front of him, a spectral railing burst apart. He flinched as the cannonade obliterated a number of ghostly sailors.
“Supposed to be simple…grab the strongbox…no mention of witches…get rich,” Captain never mentioned a strongbox?
The Wraitheye followed the officer’s path down the stairs, towards the Admiral’s cabin. A dark trail of crimson lead into the cabin. The door was ajar, hanging limply from one of its hinges. The officer’s incorporeal form reappeared. He was slumped and crawled on his hands and knees towards the room. The trail of blood mirrored his path. They entered the cabin to find the officer’s corpse slumped across the table, a small iron trunk huddled in his hands.
“Here it is,” the woman said to herself, relief evident in her voice. Her face was ash white, almost like the specters, veins bulged in her forehead, as if she strained against some enormous weight. The woman knelt by the box, prying a key from the officer’s skeletal grip. Bast stood ridged, glazed eyes locked on the iron box.
“That’s it!” Bastien howled in glee. “That’s the box they wanted!” Renault turned towards Bast. Lightning spilled through the expansive windows lining the stern, casting discordant shadows across the room. Thunder resounded outside of the ship a heartbeat later. In that brief second, something in Bast’s expression snapped. His eye twitched— face contorting into an animalistic snarl.
“That’s mine you fucking witch!” Bastien screamed and raised the rifle clutched in his hands. Renault watched, unable to process what was happening. The woman turned, her eye fully engulfed in obsidian, and threw a hand out towards Bastein. Renault’s mind screamed, THIS ISN’T PART OF THE JOB.
The hammer came down, throwing sparks into the pan. Acrid smoke and fire exploded from the muzzle, sending the woman sprawling to the floor in a spin. Renault regained control of his muscles and grabbed for Bast; the damp material of his shirt coiled in Renault’s fist, he hauled the thin man within an inch of his face.
“What did you just do!” Renault roared, spittle flying from his lips. His one hope, gone. He adjusted his grip and grabbed the collar of Bastien’s shirt–forming a fist with his other hand. Bastien didn’t seem to notice, his eyes were glued to the strongbox. Renault loomed over Bast. He imagined Bastien’s head like an egg and smashed his fist into his jaw. A slew of blood and teeth sprayed across the floor. Heads were easy to crack. He’d done it before. Renault’s face was a twisted snarl. He didn’t care anymore. Bast’s head lolled to the side for a moment before his wild eyes looked up in horror at Renault. “You took her from me!” Renault bellowed. His fist slammed into the tiny man’s head. “Ten years!” Something cracked under the weight of his fist this time. Bast dropped the rifle desperately prying at the hand gripped round his neck—tearing long, red streaked gouges, into the meat. Renault grimaced and aimed another fist for his skull. The wild man’s eyes bulged at the sight of the fist. Squirming in his grip, Bastien clamped his teeth down on his hand. Letting out a howl of pain, Renault released Bast. The little man scrambled out of reach, and Renault leapt after him; his vision tinted red. Bastien’s head bobbed as he searched frantically around the room. He put the table between him and Renault and pulled something from his boot—metal glinted in the storm light.
Renault dove over the table; His bulk passing through the spectral form of the officer. The two men collided with one another and fell in a tangle of limbs. A sharp pain blistered through Renault’s arm, and again in his side—the pain nearly doubling him over. He gritted his teeth and drove his thumb into Bastien’s eye, drawing a piercing shriek. Again, pain erupted into his lower back; his muscles locked from the intensity of it. He screamed, but no sound came. Bast broke from his grip and slammed the knife into the center of Renault’s chest. Scrambling away from Renault, he left the slim dagger embedded in his torso. The veins in Renault’s neck bulged like tiny cords of iron as he fought to breath, fought to scream. From the corner of his eye he saw Bast crawling on his hands and knees towards the box. Blood spilled from his face, his nose was a broken ruin, and his eye mangled. Bast grabbed the box and key from where they had fallen and rushed from the cabin. His footsteps echoed on the deck boards and faded.
Renault struggled to fill his lungs; the pain was intense. He could hardly move and his mind began to drift. Had it really been so long? He could smell wildflowers, but struggled to conjure an image her. It took all his strength to move his arm to the items round his neck. He clutched the ring and compass in his hands, and remembered. “So you can find your way back to me.” Her voice echoed. He smiled at the memory—it had been before it all turned to storms.
A grey shape moved in the periphery of his vison, but he was too tired to look. Her face appeared. He remembered that auburn hair, auburn?
Her voice was distant. “Can you hear me, Mr. Duvalle?” she asked.
His mind snapped back into focus—it was the Wraitheye. Her robes were stained crimson. There was a ragged hole punched through the fabric of her left shoulder from which blood slowly oozed. He could hardly feel the pressure from her fingertips. His body was numb.
“You’re alive?” he said, forcing the words from his throat in a harsh croak. She nodded stiffly. “Then there’s a chance.” he couldn’t feel the items clutched in his fist. His mind drifted backwards again. She locked eyes with him, one blue, one glossed with obsidian. He looked to the looming specter, the officer that had killed the admiral, and then back to the woman. “Can you?” he asked.
She shook her head, “I’m sorry,” she began. “It doesn’t work like that”
“Then I’ll,” he struggled to form the words, “find my way back.”
“You will, Mister Duvalle.”